Presented on Wednesday, August 26 online as part of the 2020 Park Church Summer Lecture Series.
What kinds of self-encounter get memorialized in Mark Twain's vast and long-secreted Autobiography? Mark Twain has a lot of fun with the play of self-representation, while also wrestling seriously with the challenges of writing both from and against the point of view of his mediatized images. This lecture explores how Twain made and re-made himself into an object of regard - both in living his life and in writing about it - against the backdrop of nascent culture of mass publicity increasingly defined by photography. Even as a youngster, Samuel Clemens seems to have understood that, against widely shared confidence in photography's indexical relation to the "real," it also had the potential to manipulate appearances in a culture that was increasingly driven by antithetical commitments to publicity (the transparency and knowability of the workings of an open society of equals) and to privacy (individual control over public access to one's own identity and experience). As he grew to become one of the first modern celebrities, Twain continued to watch as America's democratic culture became more and more dependent on the mechanical reproduction of photographic images, both to expand and to distort popular perception of things "as they really are."
Max Cavitch is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also an affiliated faculty member of the programs in Comparative Literature, Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the author of American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman (2007) and of numerous essays on Anerican and African American literature, Animal Studies, Cinema Studies, Poetry and Poetics, and Psychoanalytic Studies. His new edition of Specimen Days is forthcoming in the Oxford World's Classics series. Presently, he is completing a comprehensive study of autobiographical writing, called Passing Resemblances.